How to teach your parents to use tech

  • Key is to have patience and not to patronise
  • Breaking things down into easy to digest steps really helps

There are no two ways about it – having to teach your parents to use tech can be tough. 

Luckily, help is at hand from experts who have spent years teaching seniors to use technology.

“A lot of people we talk to say none of their kids or grandkids will help them,” said Bre Clark, the Montgomery program manager of Older Adults Technology Services (OATS), which runs courses to get seniors using technology alongside the Senior Planet website.

“Not everyone is a good teacher, but it’s a skill you can work on.”

The importance of getting online

“Technology is really a lifeline, we are seeing people having a totally different relationship to their technology now,” Clark said.

“It’s remarkable how quickly people pick something up when it’s a lifeline.”

She said the keys are patience, not to patronise and to think about breaking down instructions into small steps.

And if you’re really struggling – get someone else to do it. 

If you’ve got kids, they may well be far better than you at teaching.

If not, why not suggest a ‘parent swap’ with friends to teach each other’s relatives. It’s often a lot less frustrating, and less likely to cause you to regress into a stroppy teenager within minutes…

And if your parents don’t yet have a way to get online, we’ve got a guide to the best devices for seniors in isolation here.

Don’t patronise

teach parents to use tech
The keys are patience, not to patronise and to think about breaking down instructions into small steps.

OATS has been running courses for several years, and one of the reasons for their success has been treating their pupils as equals.

“The key is that we treat adults as adults, they have years of experience,” explained Clark.

“Don’t make things too basic, and just break things down for them.”

Be patient – and stay calm

One of the biggest problems we face when dealing with our own parents is a lack of patience. The problem is that we’ve all grown up with technology, and using it is second nature.

Teaching that to someone else is tough, especially when it’s someone you know very well – such as a parent. The key is to try and set aside these emotions and think of yourself as a teacher, rather than a family member.

That said, as Amy Schumer showed brilliantly in a Comedy Central sketch, learning how to teach parents to use tech really can be tough.

Throughout everything, bear in mind what an incredible lifeline technology can be for people during the current situation – however much you want to shout at your mother for forgetting to say ‘Alexa’ before asking her new smart speaker a question.

Set goals

Clark says a lot of people come into classes with something they want to do – from learning to use a smartphone to using Zoom for video calls.

For seniors, keeping in touch is often key – and not just with family.

“A lot of my folks who come to class used to have a lot of in person social engagements, and they want to continue those using technology,” she said.

It can be worth chatting with your parents to set some goals before you start – learning how to send an email, a text message or a photo, or learning to use an Amazon Echo to make video calls.

Break things down

One of the key things you need to do is break things down for your parent – and this is a big problem for most of us.

“When I first started doing this, I really took it for granted how many steps I take for granted that are worth explanation.

“For instance, don’t just tell people to ‘download it from the app store’ – instead, think about every step from logging in and putting in the password (remembering to make sure it’s in the right case).

“Just going over steps and every movement you make is key. Say exactly what to do  – don’t just say ‘go to the app store’, you miss a bajillion steps.”

Make analogies with the real world

Explaining a concept like the cloud can be daunting – so try and relate it to real world activities wherever you can.

“We use a driving analogy – you break it down, take risks and practice to get there,” said Clark.

Practice makes perfect

Repetition is often key – so set homework.

Downloading homework sheets from existing courses is also a great idea – Learn My Way has a great selection here.

It’s also key to get your pupil to take notes – and can even be worth going over their notes at the end of a session to make sure they’re captured everything they need.

Don’t ignore tough questions

Privacy and security are one of the main concerns people have about technology – and seniors are no different.

People ask really good questions about security and privacy , people have so much life experience

“Try to validate people’s concerns, we would be lying if we didn’t address them.

“It’s about comfort levels, people don’t have to own or participate if they have legitimate concerns.”

However, one issue can be that people simply don’t have the knowledge to work out whether concerns are valid or not.

“There can be a digital literacy piece – you may not have the skills to do the research to validate these things,” warned Clark.

This is particularly common with social media, where people are being asked to share their personal information.

While firms are getting better at weeding out misinformation, there’s still a very long way to go.

As you try and teach parents to use tech, we’d recommend trying some of the excellent online courses here to build a solid base.

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